An Iowa Disability Lawyer’s Advice for Testifying at Your Social Security Disability Benefits Hearing
Whether you live in Ames, West Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Waterloo or any point in between, most applicants for Iowa disability benefits will have to testify at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. While the idea of a legal hearing before a judge may be intimidating, there is no need to worry. In fact, I tell my Iowa disability clients to think of the Social Security disability benefits hearing as an opportunity. This is your chance to meet the person who will be deciding your claim, look him or her in the eye, and tell your story in your own words. To make the most of this opportunity, follow these three guidelines when speaking to the Administrative Law Judge at your Iowa disability benefits hearing:
1. Tell the truth, without exaggerating or minimizing your symptoms.
The first rule of testifying at the hearing is the simplest: Tell the truth. As you testify, the Administrative Law Judge will be assessing your credibility – that is, making a determination about whether you and your claims of impairment are believable and trustworthy. If you lose your credibility with the judge, you will lose your case. Testify truthfully. Do not exaggerate your symptoms and pretend to cry or to be in more pain than you are. Likewise, do not minimize your symptoms and suffer through your testimony. If you are in pain, or if you need to take a break, say so.
2. Describe your daily activities in detail, using examples and anecdotes.
At some point during the Iowa disability hearing, the Administrative Law Judge will ask you the following question or some variation of this question: What do you do on a typical day? This question presents you with a golden opportunity to persuade the judge that your condition prevents you from working. To make the most of this opportunity, tell the judge about your day, hour-by-hour. Use specific examples to paint a picture of what a typical day was like before you started having health problems and what a typical day is like now. For example, you might give the judge details about the following:
- What time do you get up in the morning? Are you rising later now because you have trouble sleeping through the night?
- Do you need help getting dressed? If you dress yourself, how long does that take? Have you stopped wearing clothing with buttons and zippers?
- Do you do any household chores or run errands during the day? Do you need help to accomplish these basic tasks you used to do alone?
- Do you need to rest during the day? How often?
- Do you spend most days watching TV? Did you ever watch TV in the middle of the day before you were disabled?
- Do you cook dinner for your family? Are you cooking the large family meals you used to cook or are you opening a can of soup?
- How well do you sleep at night?
Remember, your goal is to describe in vivid detail how your disability has affected your daily life and limits your ability to work.
3. Describe your pain and other symptoms precisely and honestly.
To make the most of your testimony at your disability benefits hearing, describe your pain and other symptoms as precisely as you can. Do not exaggerate or minimize your symptoms; try to give specific examples of the following:
- What is the nature of your symptoms? Does fatigue keep you in bed all day? Does the back pain stop you in your tracks?
- How intense are your symptoms? If you suffer from pain, don’t tell the Administrative Law Judge, “It hurts.” Be specific. Rate your pain on a scale of “1” (no pain) to “10” (the worst pain you’ve ever experienced). What aggravates the pain? What helps to alleviate the pain?
- Where does it hurt? Where is the pain concentrated in your body? Does it radiate from one point to another, for example from your neck down to your shoulder?
- How long do your symptoms last? Again, the more specific your answer, the better. For example, do not say, “Sometimes it lasts for days.” Instead, say something like “Usually, the pain lasts several hours. In the past year, though, I have had half a dozen episodes where the pain lasted for almost 24 hours, and twice it was so bad that I couldn’t get out of bed for over a week.”
- How often do you experience these symptoms? Do not tell the Administrative Law Judge that you are “always” short of breath or that the pain “comes and goes.” Be specific. On a typical day, how many times do you feel dizzy? Do you struggle to catch your breath after walking from one end of the house to the other? How often do you have pain in a typical week?
An Iowa disability lawyer can help you prepare
Good preparation makes good testimony. If you are not currently represented by a Des Moines disability lawyer and you would like to talk with me in anticipation of your Iowa disability benefits hearing or about other aspects of your case, please complete the Claim Evaluation Form to the right. Alternatively, you may contact me at:
Timothy N. Tripp
Des Moines Iowa disability attorney
West Des Moines Office
4090 Westown Parkway, Suite E.
West Des Moines, Iowa 50266